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Pique and McClean episodes show the ugly side of Spanish and English fandom

gerard pique james mcclean

Nationalism continues to rear its ugly head among soccer fans in Western Europe. While media coverage is extensive of any hint of racism, fascism or right-wing political behavior around matches in Eastern Europe, often times the ugliness in England and Spain is ignored.

Spain and England have become more accommodating to foreigners and those of different races who come to play in those nations, but many fans in those countries continue to be less than tolerant about domestic-based historical conflicts.

The boos and jeers directed toward Gerard Pique this week as Spain took on Slovakia in a critical Euro 2016 qualifier were disappointing but sadly not shocking, from where I sit. Pique has come out and openly supported the idea of Catalan independence from Spain, something which is well within his rights and is reconcilable with his professional experiences as a Barcelona player.

The idea of Catalan sovereignty has long been tied into the ethos of FC Barcelona from the years when Spain’s fascist dictator Francisco Franco suppressed all other expressions of nationalism from Catalonia. Pique has publicly expressed the sentiment of many other players, fans and media across Europe regarding Catalonia’s future.

The Pique saga comes just weeks after treatment of West Bromwich Albion’s James McClean during the first Premier League match of the season against Manchester City made me cringe. McClean has no doubt been provocative about his views regarding Irish nationalism and events such as Bloody Sunday in hometown of Derry. But his every touch in the first half of that game was booed by both sets of supporters, and manager Tony Pulis withdrew the player at halftime. The reason might have been tactical as the Baggies were down 2-0, but the crowd reaction to McClean probably made it an easier decision.

McClean has long been open about his feelings, refusing to wear a poppy on his kit while at Sunderland and Wigan. This summer on a tour of the United States, McClean turned his back during the playing of “God Save the Queen.”

The lack of maturity of supporters on these issues is matched by some in the media. Sky Sports Alan Parry essentially trolled McClean during the broadcast of the Manchester City match by referring to him as “McClean, the Northern Irish man from Londonderry.” Those who are unfamiliar with the sensitivities of the Irish conflict may not realize that calling an Irishman “Northern Irish” and Derry “Londonderry” are about as subtly provocative as possible. Parry’s reference to McClean as such at the very time his own supporters were booing him was pouring fuel on the fire.

SEE MORE: The Baird dilemma: Should referees stop a match any time a booking is in order?

As Western Europe moves into a new paradigm, re-tribalism is sweeping places like United Kingdom and Spain. It can be argued that, stripped of their former colonial empires, the Castilians and English have taken a hard line toward those peoples they have historically ruled over within the domains they rule.

Regardless of where you come down on these political issues, the growing trend toward hardline nationalism in stadiums, stifling the abilities of individual players like Pique and McClean to express themselves freely based on their own culture and experiences, is worrying. Both the Spanish and British authorities should be working to crack down on such unfortunate shows of disrespect from fans and, in the case of Parry, the media.

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  1. Rhian Duffy

    September 9, 2015 at 10:58 am

    Total rubbish to suggest that Albion fans were booing McClean. I was in the Halford’s and can confirm that the only booing was from the Man City Fans. Yet again another ‘Journalist’ ignoring facts and sensationalising non events !

  2. The Irish Kagawa

    September 9, 2015 at 12:26 am

    I like this article. But McLean didn’t turn his back on the British flag before the game against Charleston Battery. He simply didn’t face it, and bowed his head. His back was not turned to it.

  3. Bully Hoo.

    September 8, 2015 at 6:20 pm

    I was in the Birmingham Road End and there wasn’t one boo from there. I’m not saying his views are universally accepted by Baggies fans but the only booing of McLean came from the City section as they have from every team we play.

  4. Forever Albion

    September 8, 2015 at 5:08 pm

    Would just like to echo the above comments, also being at all the opening games. No booing from the Albion fans.. Another factual article from someone who wasn’t there.

  5. peter pervis

    September 8, 2015 at 3:53 pm

    The UK is undergoing the most far reaching devolution in its history (returning power to constituent parliaments) – hardly an example of tribalism and screws your “stripped of their colonies” theory.

    btw we were ‘stripped’ of our colonies about 60/70 years ago – I think we’ve got over our loss of world dominance now!
    More up to date, how are the USA coping with losing their world dominance? Maybe that’s why they’re meddling in countries they’ve no right to be in.

    stones and glass houses springs to mind…

  6. Son of Albion

    September 8, 2015 at 2:42 pm

    I’d echo Boing Boing’s point. I was at the Albion v Man City game, and the subsequent match versus Chelsea. The level of booing of McClean was about the same in both matches and it was definitely not coming from Albion supporters.

    I suspect that you weren’t actually at the game because if you had been then you would have heard his name cheered when the team line ups were announced.

    To use this mistaken notion to suggest a lack of maturity amongst one set of supporters leaves your article with no credibility whatsoever. If you’re at a loose end this Saturday get along to The Hawthorns and sit in with the fans to judge for yourself.

  7. Flyvanescence

    September 8, 2015 at 2:02 pm

    So nationalism is now such a horrible thing that it is being mentioned in the same category as racism? Gosh such horror, some people might disagree with some other people’s views on political issues!

    (Disclaimer i am not a political conservative so dont attack my views which were not even stated in my comment)

  8. Boing Boing

    September 8, 2015 at 1:25 pm

    Where exactly were you sat in the ground when ‘both’ sets of supporters were booing James McClean at the Hawthorns then? I was sat in Smethwick End and Albion fans were booing Raheem Sterling and City fans returned the favour from McClean – all pretty standard stuff on the terraces. I don’t want truth to get in the way of a good story but relying on Sky commentators isn’t always wise. Watch the game and you’ll understand why McClean was changed at half time!!

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